Tag Archives: Space Heating

Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 3

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa workshop, 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the workshop, see this blog.

CPD blog day 3 image 1 part 2Charcoal briquette production and use. Image: GVEP International

Day three of the CPD course concentrated on the household energy poverty challenge in African cities, focusing again on Uganda, Ghana and South Africa for case studies. Energy is a cross-cutting issue in the household services sector, affecting areas such as health and life expectancy, food service and nutrition, water supply, and other basic life experience factors.

Currently 43% of South African households are living in energy poverty, defined by the government as having a greater than 10% expenditure of total monthly income on energy services. Informal households make up approximately 70% of the 3.6 million households in the country without electricity access currently. A number of factors lie behind this: from a policy perspective, the inclining block tariff and free basic electricity policies in the South African electricity sector only apply to electrified households, meaning households without electricity services, often the poorest, do not benefit from these initiatives.

A lack of access to appropriate, clean, safe, sustainable energy sources also forces households across the three countries to use expensive, unsafe but accessible fuel choices, such as paraffin or traditional wood fuels.

Following presentations on the current situation, City of Cape Town municipal energy & climate change department’s representative Andrew Janisch gave details on the City’s low-income energy services strategy. 265,000-360,000 households are currently part of the backlog for electrification by the city, and 500,000 households in the city live on less than R3,600 per month. In the face of this challenge, the city has embarked on a wide array of initiatives to improve urban energy services for the poorest, from Solar Water Heater dissemination on social housing projects to improving coordination and innovation in service delivery models and approaches. Key opportunities and lessons from the strategy include the necessity of coordination between municipal departments on energy, from tertiary education to housing to labour. “Radical” approaches and risk-taking, including the need for agility and flexibility institutionally, were also highlighted as useful approaches and factors. Finally, the critical nature of making the financial and business case for sustainable energy and energy efficiency was once again highlighted, as a route to improving acceptance and buy-in from municipal departments.

CPD blog day 3 image 2

South African informal settlement. Image: Melusile Ndlovu

Professor Trevor Gaunt from the University of Cape Town led the afternoon session on informal settlement electrification. Challenges to the common perception of the goal of electrification were a key theme of this presentation, and Prof. Gaunt proposed considering electrification on a socioeconomic and social basis, as well as the purely economic case for development. In addition, in challenging the common perception and approach, arguments were made for grid electrification in peri-urban areas, given the fact that dense populations can benefit most from grid economies of scale, rather than using off-grid solutions in these circumstances.

The latter half of the afternoon was dedicated to two field trips for the workshop participants, to the Blackriver Parkway office complex, and the iShack project in Enkanini, an informal section of Kayamandi, Stellenbosch,, a sustainability and off-grid electrification organisation.

cpd day 3 image 3

Part of the Blackriver Parkway office park’s 1.2MW photovoltaic installation. Image: Daniel Kerr

Blackriver Parkway is leading the way in embedded generation in South Africa commercial institutions, and currently has 1.2MW of installed photovoltaic capacity over three buildings. This mitigates the vast majority of the complex’s grid electricity demand, and great care has been taken to optimise the installations to closely match the demand curve of the complex. This has been achieved partly on the supply-side, through panel positioning to provide constant peak outputs over the course of the day, as well as on the demand-side, through the managing company investing in user education and buy-in for the complex’s client organisations. As legislation in South Africa is preventing organisations being net electricity contributors to the national grid, the complex generates the vast majority of its needs across the day from this solar installation. This project has become the first to legally transmit electricity back into the City of Cape Town’s electrical distribution network.

The iShack project in Enkanini is designed to provide the gamut of sustainability options to informal settlement dwellers, acting as a demonstration on how informal settlements can be more energy efficient. This covers insulation, biogas, wastewater treatment and water collection/saving, as well as off-grid electricity solutions through solar home systems. More details on the iShack project can be found in the following blog.

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Engineering Knowledge and Research Program Revisited

Simon Batchelor from Gamos on the potential changes in citizen behaviour over the last decade from some previous research, and how the SAMSET project will help to investigate this.

One of the things that excites me about the SAMSET research project is that we potentially get to revisit earlier research and consider the changes in citizen behaviour over a decade or more.  Back in 2005 we researched the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, as part of the Engineering Knowledge and Research (EngKaR) Programme of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).  A sample of 226 households was drawn from four neighbourhoods, representing informal settlement without services (at that time), informal settlement with basic services, RDP[1] houses with services and a community of ‘core houses’[2].  Unusually for that time the electricity supply in the township was operated by an intermediary energy supply company, PN Energy.  PN Energy was set up in 1994, had expanded its customer base from 6,000 to 60,000 households, and reduced non-technical losses from around 80% to nearer 5%. They used prepayment technology exclusively, and the connection fee for a household wa 150 R.  Nearly 10 years after, I took another look at the PN Energy website and I have to admit that I found the current website fairly uninformative, and I am not sure whether PN Energy has retained its autonomy from Eskom?

Gamos Blog March 14 Image

For us at that time it was fascinating to see how people managed energy use in the home.  The study divided the sample into two groups according to whether household income was above or below R1,500 per month.  Energy costs were relatively high for both groups, and amongst the poorer group energy was actually the second highest item of household expenditure.  Obviously the exact data is out of date now, and updates are required, but to us it was fascinating that in 2005, electricity appeared to be the preferred means of cooking, at least where people had access to electricity (either formally through a prepayment meter, or informally).

Main cooking appliances

Type of electricity supply
Main cooking appliance Pre-payment meter Extension cord No electricity

Electric stove / oven

68% 53%

Gas stove

8% 8%

Paraffin stove

24% 47% 92%

N (households per group):

151 36 37

‘Extension cord’ means just that.  For example, one side of the road which had electricity would run a ‘frayed wire’ across the road to give other households electricity – not sanctioned officially but practical and expedient.  Such wiring of course can dangerously overheat if too much power is drawn through it.  Households with extension cords had a more negative experience of electricity supply than those with metered connections – marginally more households with extension cords experience power cuts, voltage drop that prohibits use of appliances, and damage to appliances.  Theft of cables was, naturally, more of a problem amongst households using extension cords. Although more households using extension cords experienced electric shocks, perhaps surprisingly there was no difference in the reported incidence of fires caused by electricity.

However I remember that life was more of a challenge to those who did not have electricity.  21% of the overall sample said they did not use space heating appliances and a further 23% did not respond (indicating they have no appliance).  At that time energy poverty was contributing to high rates of pulmonary / respiratory disease in the Western Cape.  Also most households without electricity used paraffin, which also presented health hazards.  26% of non-electrified households use an imbhawula which can also be dangerous when used in enclosed spaces.

Imbawula Image

I hope we get a chance to find out how life has changed over the ten years?


[1] Reconstruction and Development Programme

[2] Formal houses built when people first started moving into the area, these houses have basic servces, but are much bigger than RDP homes.